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Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is due to a slowdown in a normal brain “pruning” process during development, according to a study by neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). Because synapses are the points where neurons connect and communicate with each other, the excessive synapses may have profound effects on how the brain functions.
The research is in Neuron. (full access paywall)
Research: “Loss of mTOR-Dependent Macroautophagy Causes Autistic-like Synaptic Pruning Deficits” by Guomei Tang, Kathryn Gudsnuk, Sheng-Han Kuo, Marisa L. Cotrina, Gorazd Rosoklija, Alexander Sosunov, Mark S. Sonders, Ellen Kanter, Candace Castagna, Ai Yamamoto, Zhenyu Yue, Ottavio Arancio, Bradley S. Peterson, Frances Champagne, Andrew J. Dwork, James Goldman, and David Sulzer in Neuron. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2014.07.040
Image: 1) A neuron from the brain of young person with autism. A new study finds that young people with autism have excess synapses. Credit Guomei Tang and Mark S. Sonders/CUMC.
2) Autistic brains do not undergo normal pruning during childhood and adolescence. The images show representative neurons from autistic (left) and control (right) brains; the spines on the neurons indicate the location of synapses. Credit Guomei Tang and Mark S. Sonders/CUMC.
3) A “self-eating” impairment in the neurons of autism patients is shown with the decrease of an autophagy marker (red color) compared to unaffected neurons. Credit Guomei Tang/CUMC.